Robotics & Automation in India – Following the footsteps of a pioneer
Well before the current buzz around automation, Veena Radhakrishna took to the factory floors in pursuit of bringing Intelligence to Robotics and Automation in material handling and manufacturing. Over the years, Veena and her company, NextFirst, have been able to leverage automation to bring massive transformation to customers – through consistency in quality, exponential productivity increase and no-touch automation.
Veena founded NextFirst along with her husband, Jayendran Balasubramanian. Veena is an alumna of IIM Bangalore, and Jayendran, an IIT Bombay and Stanford graduate. Started as a one-customer company, they have designed and built more than 400 industry 4.0 ready robotic and automation systems.
With the Covid 19 crisis pushing companies to leapfrog through their automation goals, robotics and automation will begin permeating the supply chain all the way to point of sale/consumption. Veena shares with us what she’s learned as one of the pioneers in this field in India and how she’s steering ahead in this changing scenario.
The power of flexibility
Veena and the team at NextFirst realized that the future was going to be all about leveraging intelligence and robotics to deliver automation to the promise of flexibility and “batch size of 1”. From customized just in time products on shopfloors to item diversity at consumption points, flexibility and customization is the common challenge that automation has to keep pace with.
Technology as a leveler
Using proprietary technology and partnerships across the industry, bringing niche capabilities and know-how together, NextFirst has served as the one-stop go-to expert for its customers. “Our technology is world-class, and there was no reason to restrict ourselves. We then took the leap of faith, which became a huge gamechanger,” says Veena.
Customer is supreme
If there is one common thread that connects the success of NextFirst, it is their commitment to work in partnership with their customers. “We get to the skin of the customer’s business, get a 360-degree understanding and work very closely with the customer. “We need to use engineering to solve business problems, focus on increasing revenue and customer base for the customer, and do what makes sense. If our customers like us, it is because we put them ahead of us and work with them as their trusted partners. Automation works only when it’s done as a partnership”, says Veena.
The Indian automation context
Veena also noted that there’s a lot of respect for Indian engineering in the global scene. Though India is a technology provider, the uptake for cutting edge automation within the country is still in its nascency. “The Indian market is keen on collaborative automation rather than full automation. Internationally, the demand is huge for ‘no-touch’ robotic and automation systems”, says Veena.
The Covid impact
“More and more customers are looking positively towards investing in automation post Covid. No touch automation and fulfilment is what everyone wants to gravitate towards” notes Veena. Though NextFirst’s revenues took a hit when the Covid 19 crisis struck, Veena says that the future looks promising.
Possibilities on the horizon
Veena thinks that the future will be about the coming together of artificial intelligence, robotics, software and mechanical systems. None of these can work in silos. “You need transactional intelligence, prediction powered by insights from AI and material kinetics to work together to fully leverage the power of automation. E-commerce and omnichannel fulfilment where warehouse automation is pushing boundaries of technology to achieve faster flexible fulfilment in compact spaces offers exciting opportunities and challenges” says Veena.
And how’s NextFirst planning to leverage the new possibilities? Veena is excited about its technology platform, young bright minds it is working with and key partnerships it has in place that help NextFirst compete as a global player.